Do African-Americans Need a Separate Search Engine?

What Went Wrong With Rushmore Drive

By Published on .

Pepper Miller Pepper Miller, the first black search engine, recently shut down only a year after its launch. This raised the question about whether there is a market for a black version of Google.

Rushmore Drive was the brainchild of Barry Diller's IAC, which just reported a "first-quarter net loss of $28.4 million compared to a profit of $52.8 million in the same quarter a year ago."

Too bad. Rushmore's failure is not only another negative statistic from the fallout of the economic downturn, but also from questionable planning.

John Parikhal John Parikhal
Early on, several folks from both the black and mainstream blogosphere balked at the idea of Rushmore. Bloggers criticized Rushmore for being racist and separatist while others didn't understand the concept at all. Additionally, a few questioned why IAC, whose focus is e-commerce websites, would even consider such an idea. Importantly, naysayers wondered how Rushmore would compete with the powerful Google brand?

At Hunter-Miller, we understand why and how Rushmore (and even Blackbird, the black web browser) traveled down that path. Many African-Americans -- be they business owners who target African-American consumers, students or those who want a deeper understanding of black culture -- look for specific black content, resources and stats. These black-consumer information searchers often complain that the web isn't delivering. We discovered several types of African-American content that appeared on earlier pages of Rushmore's site but appear a lot, lot later on Google and on Bing, Microsoft's new search engine. Thus, it appeared that Rushmore was better than Google at collecting, organizing and disseminating Black information.

There are some who are sorry to see Rushmore go.

Donna Smith-Bellinger, co-founder-VP of PCG Technology Services a digital strategy company, says: "We need special search engines like Rushmore Drive to make it easier to identify and locate African-American information online. An African-American search engine not only helps other African Americans find Black-owned business websites, but it can also aid corporations looking for minority companies to hire."

Additionally, Donald Moore, newly appointed president of Burrell Digital, added: "I believe that ethnic search engines have a place in the digital space. What I do question is how will they build scale and sustainable profitability?"

However, business strategist Jaclynn Topping doesn't agree. After learning about Rushmore's failure on Huffington Post, Topping questioned Rushmore's strategy. "There was nothing missing [from using Google] as a Black person. The concept of a race-based search engine (or browser) is ridiculous, especially in the face of the move to open platforms. The world-wide-web is color-blind, gender-blind, disability-blind. No barriers. It's all about the tag, keyword density and linking strategy. It's the Internet's greatest strength. What is Rushmore giving me? What's Black about browsing?"

John Parikhal, co-author of this post, and an expert on both the internet and black consumer preferences, provides another perspective: "Rushmore's failure is really about a lack of consumer understanding. They didn't recognize the difference between search and engagement. Search usually starts with utility -- just give me something I want. That's what Google, Yahoo and Bing are fighting over. It has less to do with color. But engagement (which really makes ads work) is different. That's where understanding Black America really pays off."

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John Parikhal is a "practical futurist" and consultant specializing in media strategy, marketing, research and consumer trends.

Pepper Miller is founder and president of the Hunter-Miller Group, Chicago.

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